Jonathan Schwartz of Interlock Media was there for Day 4 of the trial as the Government did not quite wrap up its case.
Today was in effect the last day that Government had to make its case, with a loose end or two left for Monday morning. There were revelations and some high drama.
First, it became clear that if Hansen and Hovind had granted more stipulations, it would have been a vastly quicker and less expensive trial.
Stipulations, as defined, per the Free Dictionary, as…
What this means that it is conceivable that the parade of authentication experts, filing clerks, digital contraband correctional officers and others that poured into Pensacola at taxpayer expense could have been greatly diminished had Hansen and Hovind verified a few filings and signatures. These out of towners were not that happy either. Many, like myself, had experienced multi-day weather delays in getting to Pensacola. Rather than finding relief from harsh winters in the mid-west or wherever they came from they encountered a chilly, foggy paradise, and stale danish in the Marriott Courtyard. Plus Pensacola residents largely indifferent or eager to distance themselves from an old scandal involving the IRS.
An agreement between attorneys that concerns business before a court and is designed to simplify or shorten litigation and save costs. During the courseof a civil lawsuit, criminal proceeding, or any other type of litigation, the opposing attorneys may come to an agreement about certain facts and issues.
Eric Hovind was the star witness, called by the prosecution yet seeming mostly benefiting the defense, though it was hard to tell. He held his composure with ease, although I could feel him wince when Schneider, ( the IRS criminal investigation agent who astounded us with the volume of emails and letters he was obliged to review and excerpt while remaining fetchingly charming in the face of it all ) presented emails from Eric's personal accounts as evidence.
You heard right. His personal account. Emails marked super-confidential and “dad”. The government, with a court order, had handily obtained all the emails for the relevant months needed in their case and reached into the private sector as the Federal Bureau of Prisons claims to run out of hard drive space every six months and erase all the digital calls and emails generated by federal convicts.
So when the prosecution had to rewind to March, 2012 they got a big fat Drop Box full of emails from MSN and a giant thumb drive from Google, containing the entire email accounts for that period associated with Eric Hovind, Paul John Hansen ( or at least one of his many email accounts) Paul Dublin, who actually used his wife’s email account, Marlissa Jewell Dublin, Hovind’s daughter. Kent Hovind “Junior” somehow escaped the narrative. Perhaps that computer forensics team will be freed up to find the balance of Lois Lerner's e-mails now that they have played their part in the Hovind drama.
Getting back to Eric Hovind’s testimony, it was delivered by the perfect picture of a loving son who is athletic, handsome, and connected. Every bit the instantly likable Christian hipster businessman, The kind of guy you want to go play golf with even if you don’t play golf. Still following a spiritual beacon while shrewd enough to keep the ministry going, transfer assets without his father knowing for two years, protect the fiscal health of his mom and siblings, and legally extend his occupancy years after the forfeit order so he and his family members might live rent free in various houses. Eric was collecting rent from tenants which he plowed back into renovations and generating savings to buy back the house he and his immediate family had been living in for forty thousand dollar free of any civil or IRS liens.
Eric Hovind exclaimed, after realizing the content of some of the emails that had been read aloud in the courtroom “welcome to my family” and email “to the world”. One could argue that his father’s actions, through his liens and constant filings, deliberately or not, managed to win his son a few years to sock away money for a down payment and live off the fat of the land for a spell. In fact, despite the fierce father-son battles over control of the ministry and its brand, the mutual betrayals and blatant power struggles, I caught an unmistakable “ look” from the usually placid Hovind in his son’s direction as his son was rocking the jury . He is proud of his son and loves him. So even if Hovind loses this trial and spends more time in lock-up, today he was winning when his son was on the stand and stole the show. Legacy fulfilled.
Some more acid revelations. The total value of the property the government sold and the fifty thousand plus garnered from a bank account almost pays off the criminal forfeiture from his 2006 conviction short 40 or 50 thousand depending on how you calculate it. Kent Hovind, still has a civil liability for income tax of over $3,000,000, which as far as we know, IRS has not even started collection action on. Good luck with that.
The evidence presented today was the most damning, though there was less of it. We heard, out loud, as witnesses read the documentation trail, in their many voices but always with some collective hum, and sped along by the prosecutor who was spinning faster and faster as the day grew to a close, Instance after instance of fraud, intimidation, trickery and deceit.
Hovind asked Eric to compare himself to Paul in the bible when he was ordering him to hold his tongue. This in a phone call recorded just this February , and in the same call Eric bristled and told his dad not to be telling him this, not to be digging his hole ever deeper, and not to be citing Paul. Hansen, appeared ever more the con man, with his instructions to the Hovind family to follow his will as the CEO of Creation Science Evangelism and his veiled threats, boasts and con games.
Judge Casey at the end of the day spent five minutes addressing the Defense, especially Hovind’s. It was an intimate moment. I felt I was eaves dropping. The Jury had left and the Federal Marshals were looking as fit as always, but clearly suffering from having been that still, for that long, and aching for that cigarette or scotch, home & family.
The judge light heartedly limited the two defense attorney’s closing statements to a reasonable amount, kindly beseeching them to not go on for more than two hours, and suggested some homework assignments that they take on over the weekend. She distinguished normal and justified appeals, which Hovind had exhausted in her estimation soon after his conviction in 2006, and insisted that he had crossed the line between valid legal challenges and defiant actions which Hovind was now indulging in.
She discouraged,(and allowed the possibility that they could convince her otherwise Monday morning) Keith, Hovind's public defender, from indulging in the Cheek defense,
John Cheek was a pilot for American Airlines who from seminars he took in the 1970s concluded he did not have to pay income taxes. Cheek was prosecuted for tax evasion and failure to file a return. The general rule that "ignorance of the law is no excuse" is relaxed, by statute, for some tax crimes. The trial judge in Cheek's case told the jury that a belief in order to be in "good faith" had to be "objectivity reasonable". Cheek appealed that instruction all the way to the Supreme Court which ruled that instruction invalid. Thus was born the "Cheek defense".
In his interviews, Kent Hovind usually refers to three tax professionals who sent him letters telling him that everything he was doing was "OK", Those letters were something of a mini-industry that tax protesters created in response to the Cheek discussion. Pete Reilly discussed the letters in some detail here.
Judge Rodgers indicated that she might rule that lack of willfulness does not constitute a defense for the particular crimes that Hovind and Hansen are charged with. She told them that she would present charges before their closing statements. After having been all but silent for days except to be polite, procedural, or coach the jury, she took back her courtroom in those five minutes and with it the case. She had been haunted by the Hovind case for many years now, and she was looking to end it.
Jonathan Schwartz is the executive director of Interlock Media, which focuses on environmental and human rights issues. Interlock production Faith In the Big House, on prison ministries recently aired on PBS.